Rugby Union

Nigel Owens.

Austin Healey criticises referee Nigel Owens and questions his status in the game

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The 'Leicester Lip' has never been afraid to express an opinion, no matter if he risks upsetting an entire nation in doing so.

Austin Healey was a fine international rugby player for England, but he is perhaps best known now for being an outspoken pundit with a penchant for raising hackles and ruffling feathers.

The latest target in his line of fire is Welsh referee Nigel Owens, regarded as one of the finest officials in the game and something of a national hero in his homeland.

Owens has come under fire for his recent handling of Munster's controversial Champions Cup quarter-final defeat of Toulon and angering the French club's owner Mourad Boudejellal in the process.

And, Healey is firmly of the opinion that the Welsh referee's burgeoning celebrity status has had a negative impact on his on field performances.

Owens has carved out something of a media career for himself with a newspaper column, a Welsh TV show, regular after-dinner speaking engagements, and a sizeable Twitter following that have established him as one of the biggest celebrities in the sport.

The attendant distractions of such a media profile are something that concern Healey, as he disclaimed in his Telegraph column, as per WalesOnline.

"There is no doubt that Nigel falls into the category of celebrity referee. No other referee comes close to matching his public profile.

"He has his own talk show. He has his own newspaper column in which he discussed Brexit this week. In fact, I cant't think of a referee in any sport who has built up a profile like his and being able to pull it off.

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"The problem is that once you find yourself on that pedestal, then don't be surprised if people like Mourad shoot at you.

"The question then becomes, ‘Has Nigel Owens become too big to referee?'

“Is it possible to be a celebrity referee? Can he afford to be as vocal as he has been on Twitter, or dress up as a leprechaun and Bob the Builder on his TV show, and still be considered an independent arbiter of fact? And does his role within the celebrity world influence his style of refereeing?

"I have got the impression that Nigel is refereeing to the sound of his own whistle. He wants the game to flow, he wants the game to be a good spectacle, but at what point is he refereeing his own interpretation than the actual laws?

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“This is a genuine question – is he so good now that he thinks he can mould the laws to his own wishes?”

The idea that the personality of Owens has grown too big to be an effective referee is certainly not going to find much favour in Wales, but does Healey have a point regarding the larger than life official?

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